1 Corinthians 7–8: People & Problems

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 12: Sunday

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up
1 Corinthians 8:1b LSB

Sunday’s Bible reading is 1 Corinthians 7–8. In chapter 7, “Paul turns to the specific subjects on which the Corinthians had written to him.”1 From 1 Corinthians 7:1–11:1, he will reply to questions covering a broad range of topics.2

Paul’s teaching on immorality at the end of chapter 6 transitions into a discussion of marriage in chapter 7. Alan Cole gives this overview of what Paul has to say:

“In estimating what he says the situation must be borne in mind. There was in antiquity a widespread admiration for ascetic practices. Some, as least, of the Corinthians shared in this. Paul makes every concession to their point of view. He agrees that celibacy is ‘good’ and he points out some of its advantages. But he regards marriage as normal. From xi. 11 we see that though there are some advantages in celibacy, there is a greater completeness in marriage. Celibacy requires a special gift from God. Paul remembers the stresses of living the Christian life in Corinth, with its constant pressure from the low standards of pagan sexual morality. He bears in mind the current emergency (‘the present distress’, verse 26; cf. verses 29f.) Though he himself prefers celibacy his advocacy of that state is very moderate. He does not command a celibate life for all who can sustain it. He never says that celibacy is morally superior to marriage. He regards marriage as the norm, but recognizes that there are some, to whom God has given a special gift, who should remain unmarried.”3

Paul tells the Corinthians:

But because of sexual immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.
1 Corinthians 7:2 LSB

Cole comments on this verse:

“The general rule is that men be married. The reasoning runs thus: Celibacy, as you say, is good. But temptation abounds. It is inevitable. The right solution is for every man to be married. Let every man have is not a permission. It is a command. There will be exceptions (verse 7), but Paul leaves no doubt as to what it normal. Fornication was rife in Corinth (the word is plural, pointing to many immoral acts). This made it harder for the unmarried to remain chaste. Harder, too, for them to persuade others that they were, in fact, chaste. Some have suggested that Paul here gives expression to a low view of marriage. The answer is that he is not expounding his view of the married state (cf. Eph. v. 28ff.), but dealing with a specific question in the light of an actual historical situation. Cf. Calvin: ‘the question is not as to the reasons for which marriage has been instituted, but as to the persons for whom it is necessary.”4

Of the individual situations regarding marriage that Paul addresses, divorce is the stickiest. It is rampant today with even Christians divorcing one another. The biblical reasons for divorce do not include not being able to get along, feeling incompatible, or simply thinking you can’t be yourself. Difficult marriage situations need biblical counseling and help from your pastor, or an elder, or a trusted counselor. Biblical reasons for divorce are the three As: adultery, abuse, or abandonment.

But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not divorce her husband. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband. For otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave. The brother or the sister is not enslaved in such cases, but God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?
1 Corinthians 7:10–16 LSB

Cole comments:

“It is noteworthy that Paul gives these directions under the heading, speak I, not the Lord. He does not mean, of course, that this is contrary to what the Lord would have ordered. But in verse 10 he had been able to quote an express command of Christ to suit the situation…But he does not think that what he says is unauthori­tative. On the contrary, he ends the chapter by assuring his readers that he believes he has the Spirit of God.”5

On Paul’s words to those married to unbelievers, Cole explains:

“…some were married before they became Christians (Paul does not envisage believers marrying unbelievers; they will marry ‘only in the Lord’, verse 39). Paul regards unions entered into as pagans as being on a footing different from those entered into as Christians. Here everything hinges on the attitude of the pagan partner. If the unbelieving wife be pleased…to continue the marriage, the brother…is not to divorce her. In exactly similar language Paul instructs the believing woman married to an unbelieving husband not to divorce him, if he is agreeable to the marriage being sustained.”6

Anthony Thiselton comments on 1 Corinthians 7:14, about the unbelieving spouse being sanctified and the children being holy:

“The lifestyle of the Christian partner cannot but affect the ehthos and to some extent the values and lifestyle of the home, whether this be the husband or the wife. The spouse’s example, witness, prayer, and living out the gospel make the spouse (and the children) in this sense holy.

“…If the spouse falls under the influene of the Christian partner’s faith, lifestyle, prayer, and living out of the gospel, how much more shall not the children?…The aspects of dynamic action and separateness in ἅγιά [holy in v. 14] mean that even if only one parent is Christian the children will be marked by an element of shaping and “difference” from a wholly pagan environment.”7

In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul moves on to food that has been sacrificed to idols. This chapter is about how to act towards a fellow Christian with a weak conscience.

Ruins of Northwest Shops in the Roman Forum of Ancient Corinth with the Temple of Apollo in the background.
Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone thinks that he has known anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he has been known by Him.
1 Corinthians 8:1–3 LSB

Once again, Paul brings up not being puffed up. He’s already mentioned this numerous times (1 Corinthians 4:6,18,19, 5:2) in various contexts. In 1 Corinthians 3–4: Jealousy & Strife, I looked at being puffed up and its companions of envy and jealousy. The Discovery Bible says the Greek word for puffed up is derived,

“from physa, “air-bellows”…properly, inflate by blowing; (figuratively) swelled up, like an egotistical person spuing out their arrogant (“puffed-up”) thoughts…graphically describes someone filled with himself, exuding unhealthy levels of self-importance.”8

Last week I wrote that I’m convinced this attitude was at the root of the problems of the Corinthians. It’s not surprising that Paul wrote his well-known and beautiful description of what love is (1 Corinthians 13) to this church.

In Romans 13, Paul also addressed the issue of eating food that had been offered to idols. I discussed it in Romans 13–14: Government & Neighbors. I think F. F. Bruce’s comments on Romans 13 are pertinent here:

“Then comes a call for special gentleness and consideration to be shown to fellow-Christians, especially those who are “weak in faith and uneman­cipated in conscience. There are matters such as food-restrictions and the observance of special days on which Christians do not see eye to eye. Those who have no scruples in such matter should not despise those who have; and those who have scruples should not sit in judgment on those who have none. “Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5). It is to God that each believer must ultimately render his account, and it is to God that he is responsible for his con­duct here and now. Christian liberty is a precious thing, not to be limited by any man’s dictation, but it should not be asserted at the expense of Christian charity. Christ, his people’s supreme exemplar, always considered the interests of others before his own; there­fore his people, while subject to none in respect of their liberty, should be subject to all in respect of their charity.”9

While at first glance the topics of 1 Corinthians 7–8 may seem unrelated, as I read them I thought that there are some underlying similarities.

Both chapters are about relationships and about thinking of someone else before ourselves. Both entail thinking about who God has called us to be and how God has called us to live. They are both practical applications of loving God and loving one another. Something the Corinthians, and we, find very difficult to do at times, but we must press on, asking for God’s help, and remembering:

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up
1 Corinthians 8:1b LSB

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
The ruins of the Northwest Shops in the Roman Forum of Ancient Corinth. In the background the Temple of Apollo.: George E. Koronaios. (CC0 1.0).
1,3,4,5,6Alan Cole, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (Wm. B. Erdmanns Publishing Company, Grand Rapids MI: 1958, 1976) 105, 105, 106, 109, 109–110.
7Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapid MI: 2000) 530.
8physióō, HELPS Lexicon, The Discovery Bible. Retrieved 05 March 2023.
9F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI: 1977) 337.
2,5,6Norman Hillyer, “1 Corinthians,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 1049, 1049, 1058.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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